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Game development








Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.


By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

  • Grant: Thanks to the start of this video, I’ve just now noticed that during the static flickers while staring...
  • Ben: Great analysis. During the lab sequence in the Prey intro, you were looking around for tells that Morgan is in a...
  • RoboLeg: this game would be PERFECT for mobile, and I’d happily pay 10 bucks or so for it.
  • Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :) 2) The non-hand holding, simple systems integrating...
  • Jack: Are you going to release Morphblade for iOS or the Nintendo Switch? I would really like to play this on my...
  • Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

    Postcards From Far Cry Primal

    Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

    Kill Zone And Bladestorm

    An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

    Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

    What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

    Natural Numbers In Game Design

    Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

    Writing vs Programming

    Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

    New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

    What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

    My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

    From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

    The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

    What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

    Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

    What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

    Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

    What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

    The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

    Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

    Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

    Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

    Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

    Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

    Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

    Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

    What’s Your Fault?

    The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

    Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

    Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

    The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

    A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

    One Desperate Battle In FTL

    To Hell And Back In Spelunky

    Games Vs Story 2

    Gunpoint Development Breakdown

    Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

    My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

    Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

    Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

    How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

    A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

    The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

    Arguing On The Internet

    Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

    Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

    E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

    The Suspicious Developments manifesto

    GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

    Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

    Understanding Your Brain

    What Makes Games Good

    A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

    Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

    Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

    An Idea For A Better Open World Game

    A Different Way To Level Up

    How I Would Have Ended BioShock

    My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

    Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

    Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

    EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

    My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

    I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

    My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

    Blood Money And Sex

    A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

    First Night, Second Life

    SWAT 4: The Movie Script

    PC Gamer Podcast: March

    Tim calls this episode 11, because it’s the 12th, and I call it March, because it’s out in February. I’ve numbered the file 185, after the issue of PC Gamer that’s coming out this week.

    In it, I do an impression of the bartender from the Witcher, we discuss the worst games of the year, gasmasks, some new information on the Team Fortress 2 changes, pleasing pirates in Sins of a Solar Empire, and our crack legal team’s advice on how to say things we’re not allowed to say.

    Editor Ross Atherton is the smooth-talking host, Deputy Editor Tim is the one with the emphatic voice, I’m the low drone, and News Editor Craig is the Scot.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


    Jason L: Are you the one mentioning AudioSurf? At that point you and another guy sound the same. If so, do you think anything about it? I was sort of disappointed. Has it improved since the betademo?

    Tom Francis: I think it's Tim who sounds a bit like me. I haven't played AudioSurf yet, so it's probably Tim talking about that.

    Tim E: It amazes me that people can't understand that we have an episode 0 that we didn't actually put online until after Episode 1. Hence the entirely sensible numbering policy.

    The only solution is to have a leap-podcast.


    Tom Francis: I still haven't actually played AudioSurf, but I've just been watching it being played in the office and it looks awesome. Why did it disappoint you?

    ImperialCreed: I got hold of Audiosurf in the beta and love it still - the only downside to the thing is that it's only as good as your music collection. I tried playing a track of some Miles Davis and it was all over the place, just too damn hard. Interpol was just too boring. I found a sweet spot of NiN, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and haven't looked back. Disappointing? Hardly.

    The_B: I believe Jason may possibly be dead inside.

    ImperialCreed: Seconded

    Tom Francis: Played it at last; it's awesome. Varies a lot with the track, obviously, but most work really well. It actually does feel like a fresh way to play music - if I made music, I'd check each track with Audiosurf to see how it felt.

    I suspect it'll be huge. As is, but more so if they port it to iPods, mobiles, PSPs. Perfect for commuters.

    Jason L: I may well be, and I'm actually quite glad to hear the love pouring out past me in the gnoosphere. I certainly applaud it; it's the first visualiser thing in the history of ever that actually seems to pay attention to the music and correspond in some useful way. Every track is distinct and appropriate to the sound. Just for that it deserves to go down in history, and I want to love it.

    The problem is that the game I played while listening to and watching the music immediately and persistently bored me to tears. I can collect these things! In groups! Of columns! Or something! And if I collect a bad one they turn grey! Or something! I'm not interacting with the music, and I can't tell whether I'm doing well or poorly because there is neither a generated target high score to pull me nor an opponent or even a rubber-band progress line to push. There's just too much boring mental paperwork in keeping track of the colour points hierarchy while avoiding making X group while waiting for a Y to appear in the Z column at random in service of a meaningless highscore. A line-following or obstacle avoidance game could have worked - as is, I found I was essentially trying to watch a fun toy while playing an overcomplicated pop-three so I regretfully gave up both.

    Watch this: I gave it another shot before posting to make sure I wasn't saying anything grossly inaccurate. The final line of the first draft was a request that he make an edition with the game part turned off. Oh look, there's been an update. Now you have to sign in, which doesn't make me happy but for a free beta I'd be a jerk to complain. However, there is also now a 'freeride' option. Here, have some of my money, sir! I love Audiosurf now that I never have to play it again.

    Seniath: My only problem with the Freeride is that you can't have it running in the background whilst doing something else. But then, I guess if I had less screen real estate that wouldn't be an issue, so nm. I'm somewhat hoping they don't port it to the iPod, for no doubt if they did, it'd be Touch only (I'd hate to try and control it with a click wheel), thus increasing my urge to plop down some insane amount of money for one.

    Tom Francis: I must admit I think it's a mistake to have you 'die' if you overfill a column - it kind of ruins your enjoyment of the song, and I think that's more important than the challenge of the game. I'd rather that column just stayed full, and if I want to free it up I have to match stuff or repaint it.

    The_B: I think the main issue for you Jason is that you seem to be the sort of player that isn't motivated by an online high score. And that's fair enough - I agree that people who actively want more than that may come away thinking a little like it's not much more than a vizulisation. But for those that do like high scores, it's amazingly compelling to try and beat those scores - heck, even to just beat your friends rather than the world's high scores. I admit, little more than 18 months ago, I thought Achievements would be a flash in the pan, and couldn't see how exactly they would enhance gaming. But I've even suprised myself at how much of a motivator they and high scores can be to me.

    And another half of the fun, I feel, is finding the tracks that make the best surfs.

    Jason L: Oh, I like Achievements and leaderboards, me...or at least I fully expect to. I only finally got a 360 a couple of weeks ago, and only got time to tuck into the thing last Friday. I don't have the kind of addictive personality that goes for MMOs and Gamerscore, but I do like seeing the little Dings when it pops up an Achievement and I plan to take a pop at some lap times and Geometry Wars rankings on Live. Online and persistence in moderation are great.

    The main problem for me isn't that online leaderboards per se are unable to substitute for a proper generated goal, but that these in particular just don't carry any meaning for me. I can't see the skill in this game. Sure, you can memorise where it throws a lot of reds and yellows and maybe even what stacks it drops them in. But is that even optimal? Should I take what I can get in blues? There's no feedback in the game to tell me when I'm doing well; only exhaustive and repetitive testing and calculation will tell, and in the meantime I'm recording numbers in some notebook while playing a pop-three. The greed ratio probably varies from song to song, too. Actually, is that what this game is about? Is the high-score competition fundamentally a memorisation competition? That's how it looks to me, am I just missing something big?

    Anyway, in summary I can derive fun from online competition but in order to enable that the game has to first be some minimal level of fun on an immediate level. The core experience here, in my mind, was supposed to be me grooving to my music. The game part has no groove, no sense of momentum at all. I've also read on RPSh about a problem that hasn't affected me personally and won't - that it combines scores based on artist and title instead of a checksum. There's a strong argument to be made that that's the preferable route, but on the flipside it means that different versions of the song have different intrinsic scores and you can't tell if people are actually playing the same track as you. If I were trying to get stuck into online high scores that uncertainty would drive me frothing batty.

    Jason L: Aargh, I was only trying to clarify my situation but I sound like I'm full of hate for Audiosurf. Not the case; again, it is a REZ that works with everything and I'm happy.

    The_B: It is worth mentioning though that AS does have a report function, if someone has sn entirely different looking track to what you played.